Ask a Master Gardener: Bittersweet, good or bad?

  • Bad: Invasive Oriental Bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus) USNPS/WIKIMEDIA PHOTO

  • Good: Non-invasive American Bittersweet (Celastrus scandens) USIWS/WIKIMEDIA PHOTO

For the Gazette
Published: 9/28/2018 3:23:58 PM

Q: What can I plant in my fall containers besides mums and cabbage? Is bittersweet good to use?


A: Fall is officially here!  The autumnal equinox happened this past Saturday, September 22 ushering in the new season. Together with very welcome cooler temperatures, some people’s minds are shifting to outdoor fall décor. Cheery orange pumpkins, warm colored mums and heads of curly leaved purple and green ornamental cabbage are always lovely in fall containers and set the mood for hot, mulled cider paired with fresh cider donuts. Yum!

 Here in the Pioneer Valley, numerous additional plant options are available to help outdoor porches pop. Flat, multi-colored and multi-textured heirloom Cinderella pumpkins add substance while annuals such as pansies, violas, ornamental peppers and purple fountain grass (Pennisetum setaceum ‘Rubrum’) add color and form. Perennials including asters (Aster spp.), coral bells (Heuchera spp.), grasses and sedum (Sedum spp.) also work well. The bonus with perennials is they can be planted in the garden when the containers are done for the season. 

 Regarding bittersweet, there are two often confused kinds: native American Bittersweet (Celastrus scandens) and Oriental Bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus). Both are attractive ornamental vines with brightly colored berries for fall décor, but the difference between them is significant. American Bittersweet is an innocuous vine indigenous to North America with berries growing on the vine’s tips. Contrarily, Oriental Bittersweet is a nasty brute native to Eastern Asia with berries growing along the vine instead of at the tips. It is invasive and destructive. Birds will eat its pretty seeds and disperse them. Left unchecked, Oriental Bittersweet overtakes landscapes, literally smothering trees, shrubs, and any plant in its path with twisting vines, sometimes 4 inches thick, and so heavy it uproots large trees under its weight. In fact, the United States Department of Agriculture lists Oriental Bittersweet as a national invasive species. That said, please consider using non-invasive plants for decoration. There are so many beauties available! 

 Have a gardening dilemma? Please send your questions, along with your name/initials and community, to the Western Massachusetts Master Gardener Association at One question will be selected and answered per week.

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115 Conz Street
Northampton, MA 01061


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